A top Colombian general, lauded for his successes against the FARC and trusted by Washington, has been accused by a former paramilitary fighter of collaborating with death squads in Medellín, reported the Washington Post Wednesday.
General Mario Montoya, who was also accused of collaborating with paramilitaries in a CIA report disclosed by the Los Angeles Times in 2007, which at the time was dismissed as unproven intelligence by Colombian officials, is now the target of a preliminary investigation by the attorney general.
If proved, the charges could be a body blow to the administration of President Alvaro Uribe, which has consistently defended the general in the face of past allegations. Some 30 military officers and police officials have already been implicated in testimony by paramilitaries, reports the newspaper.
The allegations come on the heels of the arrest of retired General Rito Alejo del Río, who worked directly with Uribe while the president was governor of Antioquia, on charges of working with paramilitary militias to fight the guerrillas.
Montoya protested his innocence to the paper, calling the paramilitary, Luis Adrián Palacio, “a bandit” and accusing him of trying to reduce his prison term.
“He is lying; he is lying out of all sides of his mouth,” Montoya said. “I am a fighter. I am a warrior. That is why I have enemies. I defend Colombian democracy.”
Yet Palacio may receive more jail time for his allegations, because in the course of testimony he will have to admit to committing more killings and crimes, Colombian officials told the newspaper.
“There have been continuing concerns with reports linking General Montoya and troops under his command to paramilitaries,” said Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees funds to the Colombian army in a statement in response to the newspaper story. “These allegations should be thoroughly investigated to assure that the chief of the Colombian Army — an institution that receives hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid each year — is of unimpeachable integrity.”
Assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr., told the Washington Post that he thought the current accusations were serious and should be investigated.
He added that while the office had heard of previous allegations, investigations had “found nothing to support them.”
“Our experience with Montoya is a good one,” he told the newspaper. “He is a great field commander. He’s done very well with the FARC.”